What Are The Key Things You Look For When You’re Interviewing Someone For A Job?

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31-03-2014

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In HR Talk, we pick one human resources (HR) related topic each week, and gather a few HR experts to share their opinions on it. If you have any questions about the HR industry, send them to us at mystarjob@leaderonomics.com and we will get our panel of experts to answer them.

This week’s topic:

“What are the key things you look for when you’re interviewing someone for a job?”

Datin Badrunissa Mohd Yasin Khan – Group chief talent officer

Axiata Bhd There are a few dimensions that should be checked when interviewing someone for a job. And these would be different for different roles and levels of management. In general, three aspects are key:

– Functional or technical competence.

– Leadership competence, appropriate to the level of management.

– Cultural fit.

And if you are hiring a person for a longer-term career in the organisation, as opposed to only filling for a job or project for a limited time, then a fourth aspect needs to be checked out too, which is a prediction for a successful career progression in the organisation.

The most used term for this would be potential or headroom.

Unfortunately, a job interview, no matter how well it is done, does not provide a complete view of a candidate. This is because when someone answers questions thrown at them, it is very human to put up filters so that you tell only what you think the other person wants to hear.

An expert interviewer will be able to probe for evidence to validate the answers but it is still quite tricky as the setting is one of “selling one’s capability”. Surveys and tests do help to validate what the interviewee says.

Also, some organisations run assessment centres where candidates are expected to carry out certain tasks in a controlled setting and behaviours observed in the process.

Another way to validate further is to do referral checks with previous managers to understand further the candidate’s “capability in action”.

In my opinion, cultural fit is not to be underestimated. An organisation is almost like a living organism – it will reject a foreign object.

Hence, the ability to suss out if someone is able to fit into the organisation’s culture, and embrace it, would be a crucial element in the selection process.

Sometimes when I ask people how they did in interviews they say “It went well”, only to learn later on that they did not get the job.

This is obviously disappointing, but at the end of the day, with many candidates applying for the job, it is important to be prepared and to understand what recruiters are looking for when they meet candidates.

This, however ,is no guarantee to secure the job, but it will help individuals understand how to enhance their chances of success.

Claudia Cadena – Director, strategic human capital management, President & group CEO’s office, SapuraKencana 

The following are the three most important things I look for when I interview a candidate:

1. Experience vs Potential

The curriculum vitae ( CV) itself will give a good indication of the skills and experience that a candidate has, and that in itself is probably the reason why that individual was shortlisted to attend the interview.

However, once the individual is in that interview, the CV is nothing more than a reference guide.

During the interview, the candidate needs to be able to clearly articulate what he/she has actually done, what have been the tangible contributions/outcomes achieved and what learnings have come out of what he/she has undertaken in the past.

This is just one part of the equation. The other part, which is a bit more complex and complicated to ascertain is the potential for growth.

Hiring is in most cases not just a matter of finding someone to fill up a current need.

We are managing careers, therefore it is important to try to understand how far the individual wants to go, whether he/she has what it takes to progress, and if the organisation has the ability to offer those desired opportunities to the candidate.

2. Values and traits

Individuals come into organisations with their own value system which will dictate how they behave, interact and inter-relate with colleagues.

Diversity in most cases is critical to business success, but a common set of values is the one single most important common factor that individuals are expected to exhibit and abide by in organisations.

But how can we be sure that the individual shares the organisation’s values? It is not enough that individuals describe themselves as team players, results-oriented, honest and open minded.

Recruiters need to uncover these traits within the way the candidate describes how he/she interacted with colleagues, resolved a problem, participated in a working team, managed a project or achieved results.

I don’t want to hear candidates giving theoretical answers of how they will manage a problem, or how they will react to a situation if faced with it, or how they will behave if they were faced with a challenge. I want to hear how they have done it in the past.

By understanding what they did in the past, will enable me to ascertain if they displayed the type of values and behaviours that the organisation values and expects its people to display, and will be a positive indicator of the individual’s ability and likelihood of displaying those traits in the future.

3. Perfection vs imperfection

We all have our strengths and areas for improvement. However, many candidates I meet are speechless when I ask them to describe their areas for improvement or their weaknesses. There have been times when candidates have said to me they don’t think they have anything they should improve on.

This is a strong warning signal that the candidate does not know himself/herself well or is not aware of relevant developmental needs. We are not looking for supermen/superwomen.

We are always looking for the best fit, and in most cases there is no 100% fit. We want someone who can do the job, who can be a contributing member of the working community and someone who is willing to grow, learn and improve along his/her career with the organisation.

All of the above can be uncovered through an interview. In my opinion, nothing beats the ability of a team of recruiters from human resources and the hiring department to debate the answers given by a candidate to validate perceptions and come to a conclusion of his/her suitability for the role.

Umasuten Karisnan – Talent delivery and acquisition manager, Intel Malaysia

We extensively use behavioural interviewing as a starting point to spot the talent that is needed in our organisation. The intent is to assess how the candidate acts or behaves in a specific employment-related situation. And the logic is that how you behaved in the past predicts future performance.

We would have also pre-determined a set of skills that we need in our organisation, and the interview is used to rate the candidate on these skills. The technical competencies may vary by business units but the soft skills are pretty general.

The first and most important aspect that we look at is communication skills. We will ask candidates to explain about him/herself or a given situation. The intent is to see how the candidates are able to articulate clearly to an audience as they will be required to do a lot of presentations during their work time.

The next skill that we look at is how well the candidate works in a team environment.

With globalisation, most organisations will have a global structure that requires the candidate to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds. This will determine if the candidate is able to prosper in a diverse environment.

The other skill we look for is the ability to use logic or data to solve a problem. In today’s challenging environment, the key to speed in making decisions is based on compelling data.

The candidates will be assessed on how they use data to support and substantiate their ability to drive solutions for a business problem.

Another skill is influencing without authority – the ability to convince stakeholders to make the right decision.

Having said all this, we are also very mindful of the first impression the candidate makes. A firm handshake, being well dressed and how well the candidate knows the company shows that the candidate has done some homework and is eager to join the company.

For any enquiries, email us at editor@leaderonomics.com. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.

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